Synthetic drugs


Prescription drug abuse was a problem in Kentucky for too long before the state began addressing it.

Then heroin began to replace prescription painkillers, and again the state was woefully slow to act, finally passing significant legislation in the 2015 General Assembly after bills failed in two previous sessions.

Now, a new scourge appears to be on the rise. Flakka, an illegal synthetic drug that causes users to become hyper paranoid and exhibit superhuman strength, has surfaced in Lewis County. As Kristina Goetz reported last Sunday, the drug is unlike anything law enforcement officials have ever seen.

And that’s why Kentucky must not wait to tackle this new threat.

As with other drug-abuse problems, this one requires a combination of law enforcement, education aimed at prevention and rehabilitation and treatment of those who abuse substances.

One of the concerns The Courier-Journal has raised in the past regarding harsh penalties for drug abusers is that too many are incarcerated when what they really need is treatment and rehabilitation. That’s why we have opposed past heroin bills that would have allowed prosecution for dealing with any amount possessed.

Flakka and other synthetic drugs are a different case. As The Courier-Journal has reported, possession of synthetic drugs like flakka is only a misdemeanor under Kentucky law. A first-offense trafficking charge is a Class A misdemeanor. Possession is a Class B misdemeanor — no matter how many times a person is arrested or how much they’re caught with. Those penalties apparently were aimed at synthetic marijuana and bath salts, which were not considered as dangerous as today’s synthetics like flakka. As Kentucky law now stands, it binds the hands of law enforcement officials and will allow this dangerous drug to fester in communities and spread. The legislature needs to remedy that with stiffer penalties.

Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, says he is preparing a bill to amend the synthetic drug penalties, but short of a special session — which certainly could be warranted for this more than for county clerks — that puts any deterrent effect months away.

The experience of Broward County in South Florida points to an equally important step the state can take immediately — intensive education campaigns to dissuade likely users. Given the low price of flakka and its easy availability via Internet sites, getting the message out about its dangers is vital.

“Your best weapon right now is prevention,” said Paul Faulk, director of the Broward Addiction Recovery Center. “There really has to be an active effort out there in making sure that youth and those that are indigent get this information and stay away from it.”

The state should find the agency and resources to pursue such a campaign quickly.

As we have argued for past drug-abuse epidemics, the most effective long-term solutions must include efforts to make treatment and rehabilitation more readily available to those caught up in the cycle of addiction and abuse. Finding the mental health and social services facilities to address this need is a bigger and costlier issue for the state, but one it must soon face.

These are significant issues that will require significant investment of thought and eventually money. But it’s the sort of investment that is cheaper if done sooner rather than allowing another threat to our health and safety to fester.

We want to hear from you on how we can move the state ahead on this issue quickly.

Courier-Journal, Louisville

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